Bitburg ES History

Opened: 1952
Closed: 2016

Bitburg Elementary, known as the home of the Bitburg Bears, was physically located in many places on the campus through the years. At one time, the kindergarten classrooms were located in basements of the housing buildings near the main school building. Exceeding the enrollment of over 1,200 students in the early 1980s, Bitburg Elementary School was always looking for space.

Bitburg Air Base was located in the Eifel Mountains of Germany near the French and Luxembourg borders. There were three schools on the base. All the schools were located in the housing area and had students from the surrounding villages including students from Spangdahlem, Pruem, and Trier bases.

The original name of the school was Bitburg Dependent School. All grades were located in what would eventually become the main building of the middle school. The school had 808 students enrolled in the elementary school and thirteen students of high school age in 1954. The principal was Cecil L. Geyer. The school became Bitburg American Elementary School when the high school was formally opened in September 1955.

In the late 1970s, Bitburg Elementary school opened the first “Adventure Playground” which was designed by Joel Zuckerman, the assistant principal. The playground had numerous activities for children to choose including a castle bridge, a fort, a tire traverse, mini forts, a balance beam, and a concrete tunnel. Most obstacles were constructed of rope and timbers.

The elementary school consisted of two connected main school buildings and a wing in the middle school for the 1981-82 school year. The new addition, which was completed in 1973, contained fourteen classrooms; a media center; learning development center for reading, speech, and two learning development programs; and a cafeteria that served both the elementary and middle school. The fifth grades, school nurse’s office, and the physical education program were also contained in the elementary wing of the middle school. The school staff consisted of two administrators; thirty-eight classroom teachers; specialists for media, special education, reading improvement, host nation, speech, counseling and health; as well as supply and clerical personnel. For the 1981-82 school year, the school was a K–5 configuration with about 1,000 pupils and thirty-five educators.

The new kindergarten building opened in August 1990. The school now had grades kindergarten through four. English as a Second Language and a Talented and Gifted program were available by the 1993-94 school year. With the loss of a grade level, the enrollment had dropped to 860 students for the 1993-94 school year and to 720 for the 1994-95 school year.

Bitburg Elementary School’s history was rich with opportunities for all of the students, faculty, staff, and parents that made it a “’beary good place to grow.” Students at Bitburg Elementary School were afforded many exceptional opportunities to participate in study trips and cultural exchanges. The art teacher took groups of students on trips to visit Paris over several years. Other trips included ski trips to Austria, Outdoor Education weeks in Bavaria, and other overnight trips. Bitburg Elementary was ideally located where Luxembourg and Germany met. This opened up many opportunities for students to learn about many aspects of European history, economics, art, and architecture. Students could find themselves visiting Roman ruins in nearby Trier, medieval castles on the Mosel River, or Eifel area factories and agriculture facilities. Bitburg Air Force base invited students to come to the base or squadrons would visit the school to demonstrate the mission with fire trucks, F-15 jets, Patriot Missile equipment, or guest speakers. Many cultural exchanges occurred at Bitburg Elementary School (BES). BES students formed partnerships with German schools at the teacher and student levels. Students visited the Bitburg Mayor and were invited each year to participate in St. Martin’s Day Parades.

According to Sande Campbell, an art teacher at Bitburg Middle School:

“The art curriculum at Bitburg Elementary School included a great deal of art history. I wanted the students to take advantage of being located a few hours from the history of European artists. We had two buses from a travel agency who transported 50 4th grade students and 25 parent chaperones to Paris. Students were given a booklet of assignments, from their observations while traveling to France, to observing two paintings of similar subject matter by two different artists and how they are similar and different. On the first day we visited the Louvre and spent the remainder of the day there. This was an overnight study trip; therefore, we had the advantage of visiting in person, museums which they may otherwise never experience. The following day we visited The Museum of Man, also in Paris, as well as the Monet Museum. There were writing assignments at all museums. It was exciting for the students to be able to take advantage of their location making it possible to visit and respond to famous European artists and their works. These 4th grade study trips were offered for four years beginning in the school year of 1996-97.”

One cultural exchange that stands out was the Echternach Dancing Procession. The parade has been held since the Middle Ages and has recently been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. For several years, BES students learned and performed the hopping dance that all participants have danced since the 1500s on the streets of Echternach, Luxembourg. The High School band learned the music that every group must perform. The local community was very appreciative of the effort by American schoolchildren and teachers. One teacher reported that she never forgot the elderly Luxembourg people, sitting in chairs along the route, standing and applauding as the little Americans danced by.

In May of 1985, President Ronald Reagan made an historical trip to Bitburg town and Air Force Base. A second-grade class wrote to the White House to invite the President to visit their class at the beginning of the school year. Several months later, the President invited that same class to sit on the tarmac to greet the President and First Lady as they landed in Air Force One. It was an exciting time at BES with secret servicemen assigned to the school and a visit by Good Morning America.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Bitburg Elementary was able to host a group of musicians and dancers from Lithuania. The performers traveled by bus to visit the school for several days and stayed in homes of teachers and parents. There were many events held during the days and evenings of their visit. Everyone was surprised and touched that the Lithuanian group knew every word to our American folk songs. BES students got to experience the costumes, instruments, music, and language that they had not heard or seen before.

Once, a circus came to town and set up a tent across from the housing gate. The PTA arranged for the whole school to go to the circus. Not many students will forget the elephants being their crossing guards as 900 students walked across the street back to school.

Bitburg Elementary was always striving for continuous school improvement. Innovative programs were developed at BES, nurtured, and replicated in other schools. One such program was the Primary Center, started by two teachers at the BES. The Primary Center was a true multi-age program that emphasized the needs of the child’s learning, not based on age. Each teacher had students balanced across three traditional grade levels. The Primary Center grew to three classes and continued for many years until BES enrollment dropped before the school closed. Other innovative programs included creative scheduling to enable all students in the school to be able to go swimming at the German pool as part of the PE program. BES was often selected to be a pilot school for new technology initiatives because teachers were willing to learn new techniques and technology.

Over the years, BES was able to welcome many performers and speakers to the school. These offerings included authors such as Newberry Award winners Lois Lowry and Louis Sachar, a brass quintet from the Luxembourg Symphony, a Prima Ballerina from the Atlanta ballet, one of the “Little Rock Nine” from the Civil Rights Movement, and many theater troupes, storytellers, artists, musicians, and cultural representatives.

On 9/11/2001, Dr. Joseph Tafoya, DoDEA Director at that time, was speaking to the combined staff of all three Bitburg Schools in the BES gym. Dr. Tafoya had the sad task of letting us know about the attacks that began in New York just after school was dismissed in Bitburg. The students had left for the day and teachers and other staff were sent home for what would be four more days. Dr. Tafoya came back in June to give the commencement address at Bitburg High School because he said we had all “shared a moment in history” together.

When the mission of Bitburg Air Base was over, Bitburg Middle School served students from Spangdahlem Air Base who lived in the Bitburg Housing Area.

The elementary school was closed in 2016.

Special thanks to Elizabeth Rowe, a teacher at Bitburg Elementary, for her help with this history.

Information from DOD Dependent Schools School Information Guides and former teachers at Bitburg Middle School

Share This: